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Astana – “Even if the Catholic Church is a small reality, it is present throughout Kazakhstan. Especially in summer, a season that is relatively short in the country, we have numerous faith and mission formation activities, especially dedicated to children and young people. The fulcrum of every missionary activity is the encounter with the living Christ”, says Fr. Leopold Kropfreiter, SJM, missionary of Austrian nationality, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Kazakhstan. As the only National Director of the PMS in all of Central Asia, the priest states that “the first task is the commitment to missionary animation”. “Most of the youth pastoral and missionary activities – he reports – take place in the summer, because at other times of the year the adverse climatic conditions do not allow it”.
Despite the effects of the pandemic, which has imposed sudden changes in the planning of various meetings “we have seen among young people a strong desire for spirituality, prayer and community, to be lived in real life and not in the digital space”, notes Fr. Leopold.
“Some of the highlights of the summer activities – he explains – were the numerous school camps for children that were held in almost all the parishes. These camps serve to allow children to get to know the faith and the Church, to understand it more deeply and also to spend a happy time together. Muslim children also participate very often in these events, which give them their first contact with Christ and the Church. These encounters are very precious experiences”.
“Of great importance – continues the Director – are the meetings of the ‘Movement of pure hearts’, which have taken place several times a year for almost 10 years. Young people aged 14 and over have the opportunity to make new friends and to practice faith and Christian life together. Our main activity is the annual Youth Festival at the National Marian Shrine in the small steppe village of Osjornoe. Last year the initiative was canceled due to Covid-19. This year we have decided, despite some restrictions, to hold the festival on a small scale. We have limited the number of participants to 100 people”.
It was an uplifting experience for young people: “In the five days that include the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, last August – reports the priest – the young people had a rich program dedicated to the Year of the family.
The Holy Family of Nazareth was our model that shaped the entire program. All could be summarized as follows: the encounter with the living Christ is joy and fills life with meaning”.
The National Director concludes: “Even if the parishes and dioceses are very small compared to the number of believers, they still have a lively life of faith and pastoral works, the focus of which is the encounter with Christ in the Word and in the Sacraments.
A great the challenge for the Church of Kazakhstan is emigration, especially of the younger generations, to countries such as Poland, Germany and others”.
In Kazakhstan, Christianity has an ancient history that dates back to the first settlements of the Nestorians, who in the Middle Ages founded their first churches in the south of the country. Today, although the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, the majority of Christians are members of the Russian Orthodox Church. About 1% of the population, that is about 150,000 people, are Roman Catholics.